It may seem odd that in a series on associationalism I’d divert to talking about individual responsibility within any given local church. But, a church only works insofar as its members obey Christ, and an association only runs as well as local churches function rightly.
I will define churchmanship as the dutiful practice of serving Christ’s people in humility according to the Scriptures and the needs of the congregation. Churchmen prioritize Christ’s Word and Christ’s people before they think about anything else. Churchmanship is, quite literally, a simple obedience to the first and second greatest commandments given by Christ to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-39). There are three basic ways churchmanship is practically observed by church members.
Render Obedience to Church Leadership
The obedience to church leadership is not an option, but is a command from Christ in His Word. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Of course, this command assumes church leadership is leading in accordance with the Word of God. Yet, we ought never allow what we perceive to be a deficiency in church leadership guide the way we interact with them. This right belongs to the congregation as a whole, not to single individuals who feel something might be off.
We obey our elders because, according to God’s Word, they are those ordained to keep watch over our souls. This reminds me of a common saying by parents to their children, “We know what’s best for you!” Our elders, by God’s guidance in the Scriptures and in submission to Christ, know what’s best for the spiritual health of the flock.
Consider All The Blessings You’ve Had and Now Have In Your Local Church
Selfishness may sometimes get the better of us and we often begin to lose sight of the things our local church has done for us. This is not to say we should scratch the back of our church only because it scratches ours. But we need to consider the ways in which Christ Himself has blessed us by means of our local congregation. To take these blessings for granted is to take Christ for granted. The people of God, after all, are the means God uses to comfort struggling saints, doubtful saints, impoverished saints, and so on.
Before neglecting churchmanship by growing angry at, impatient with, or even rebellious against our local church, we ought to consider all Christ has done for us through our brothers and sisters we share life with. These are the people we will spend eternity with in worship of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Bear One Another’s Burdens
Churchmanship is lived out by bearing the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ by interceding for one another in prayer and offering anything and everything in order to meet their needs within the bounds of biblical and confessional freedom. We are to be as sacrifices toward one another, laying our lives down for our spiritual family just as Christ laid His life down for His Bride (Gal. 6:2).
This way of being the church is somewhat on the rocks today. It is quite customary in the West to leave a particular church (abruptly) simply because we may have a minute disagreement, or because we’ve become offended by what a brother or sister has said or done. From an early church perspective, this is grievous. We are to hold forth the arms of forgiveness and bear with one another. The local church is a congregation of sinners which requires the patience of Christ in “getting along.” If there is a truly a problem within our local church, we need to understand that the problem will probably not go away as fast as we might like. The prudent option, in this case, is to bear with the people, seek reform charitably and with patience, and glorify God in our dealing with church leadership and our fellow laymen.
A Final Word
Neglecting churchmanship is sin.
The neglect of churchmanship is identical to the neglect of Christ’s great commandments. We are to put Christ first, and in putting Christ first, we are to put the people of God first. John Calvin often referred to this as the doctrine of self-denial in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Notice also that the three principles above are interrelated. One cannot be observed without the others being observed. If we disobey godly church leadership, we take for granted the blessing of the care of souls they provide under Christ’s headship. If we neglect one another and our respective burdens, it’s impossible to obey godly church leadership since this is something any godly elder would urge. And, it’s impossible to humbly consider the blessings of Christ through the local church without also allowing that to change the way we interact with one another, particularly in bearing one another’s burdens.